How to Start a Home Design Business

A Name to Remember

Selecting a business name is one of the most important steps you'll take in the planning stages of your business. You want something that sounds professional and is evocative of what you do. On the other hand, you're in a creative business, so you may prefer a name that shows some imagination.

Karen Crorey's interior design clients sometimes have trouble with the spelling of her name, K.C. Interiors, because they can't distinguish between the initials and "Casey" when they hear the name spoken. "That complicates things sometimes," she says. "I put my corporation together so fast that I didn't give the name much thought, but I should have."

Finch, the Franklin, New York, restoration specialist, encountered a similar problem with the name of his first company, which was called "Golgotha Restoration Services." It was named for the place where Jesus Christ was crucified ("Because we resurrect buildings just as Christ was resurrected," Finch says). He chose the name because it reflected his religious beliefs without sounding religious. However, he found it was hard for people to say and remember, so he chose a simpler name when he established his current business, Heritage Restoration Services.

While creativity is great, don't underestimate the power of your own name. It's simple, it's elegant, and it leaves no question in the minds of readers about exactly what it is you do.

That was Lee Snijders' philosophy when he named his interior design business "Lee Snijders Designs." On the other hand, Lori Matzke selected "Center Stage Home" because she was looking for something "quirky" for her Minneapolis-based real estate staging/redesign company. "I work in film and the arts on the side, so I thought the name was kind of clever," she says. "I wrote down a whole bunch of names before I picked this one."

On the cleverness scale, probably no one can beat "From Piles to Smiles," Sue Becker's professional organizing business name. She says she came by it through divine intervention and liked it so much she trademarked it.

Creating Your Portfolio
After your advertising works its magic and you're sitting down with a real live prospect to discuss a job, there may be no better way to sell him or her on your services and capabilities than to show examples of the work you've done. As a result, just about every home design entrepreneur should have a portfolio. The sole exception may be professional organizers, since as Downers Grove, Illinois, professional organizer Sue Becker puts it: "Organization is about function rather than appearance, and it's hard to capture the essence of the result in a photograph. Frankly, the after photos are not very dramatic." On the other hand, a portfolio can be an ice breaker when you're meeting a client or a prospect for the first time, so even professional organizers should consider putting one together.

The most important thing in your portfolio will be the before-and-after photos of your work. Of course, when you first start out, you won't have any client work to show off, so you can organize, stage, design, paint or restore rooms in your own home or in your friends' or family's homes and photograph them instead. (You don't have to divulge this unimportant detail when you meet with prospects, either-they'll just be interested in seeing what you can do.) Be sure to show a variety of styles and techniques that will appeal to a broad audience.

If you own a good camera, you can take these initial photographs yourself and have them enlarged to 8-1/2 by 11 inches. But do keep in mind that interior photography is very difficult to do well because it requires good lighting and perspective to show a room to its best advantage. You should consider hiring a professional photographer to document your work. Of course, this can be expensive-Oakland, Michigan, interior designer Karen Crorey says she pays $500 per photograph. So even though you know in your heart that this kind of investment will reap many benefits in the long run, you may find it difficult to justify this type of expenditure when you're first starting out. Therefore, try keeping the cost down by hiring a student photographer, whose rates won't be as high as a professional photographer, or a photographer who moonlights on the side. (Just make sure you hire someone who specializes in still photography, not a wedding photographer.)

Photos of your work should be organized in a leather presentation case, which you can find at art or office supply stores for about $75. If you choose a book that doesn't have pages on which you can mount the photos, you should have them professionally mounted on art board or foam core cut to fit the size of your book An art store or a framing shop can do this for you. (Presenting the photos loose like this also makes them-and you-seem more important.) If the book has pages, you can either mount the photos yourself or ask a scrapbooking friend to do the honors. (Just skip the borders, stickers and glitter often used to embellish scrapbook pages

If you own a laptop computer, you can create a PowerPoint slide show of your work and forgo the cost of a presentation case and photo mounting all together. Using animation to give the slide show some zing can make your video presentation more interesting.

Another portfolio option that is becoming more and more popular among home design professionals is the online portfolio. By downloading photos onto your website, you can give prospects 24/7 access to your work, which can be handy for someone who's surfing at 2 a.m. while you're getting your beauty rest. The only downside is that photos can take a long time to load, especially if the client has a dial-up internet connection, so don't make them too large. Check out Chapter 14 for additional website design tips.

As your business grows, be sure to keep your portfolio updated with new photos. You don't want to keep showing those photos of, say, a room decorated in peach, green and ivory long after the color scheme has fallen out of favor.

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